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Poster: duckpond74 Date: May 18, 2011 11:14am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Recording, tapes, sound quality... 101?

"Another thing I am confused with is the speed of recording. I've seen people mention things like 24/96 reel speed or something like that. What makes the difference when it comes to speed?"

I can't speak to the 24/96 digital bits, but to answer your question on analog taping speeds, "It's the space between the sounds is where the beauty lies ..."

The faster the speed - 30 ips, or "inches per second", is for your studio needs. Maximum speed collects maximum sound. 15 ips on 10 1/2 inch reels is also used by many studios, and the professional "live" recording folks, like in-studio live radio recording of sessions, and remote 'traveling studios' like the impressive Record Plant truck of the late 70's (I'm sure there are plenty of other examples out there).

7 1/2 ips was the high-end standard for most home recorders. And 3 3/4 ips was the common speed for those that were on a budget, or wanted to be able to record longer uninterrupted pieces without a tape flip - you would get twice as much tape / time per side at the lower speed, thus often eliminating the need, in most cases, to flip the reel during a set or extended jam. The downside being, the slower the speed, the lesser quality recording - "It's the space between the sounds", or even notes, that dictates the amount of sound and, thus the quality of the overall ambient recording that will be reproduced later. Cassettes are almost always recorded at 1 7/8 ips - a "huge" and noticeable difference from tapes recorded at 7 1/2 ips on up.

I listen to a lot of music on reels that was recorded decades ago. Interesting enough, the speed has also dictated how many of these recordings have held up over time. My commercial pre-recorded reels at 7 1/2 still sound crisp and sharp, and the bass is full and rich, whereas the commercial recordings at 3 3/4 (many bought through the 'Columbia Reel Of The Month Club') have not aged nearly as well. They sound comparatively distant and flat for the most part, devoid of much of the sonic depth and aural excitement that reels are known for.

Much of the early Dead stuff was recorded on Scotch 3M 150 or 201 - a tape that did not age too well as a medium. Many of us taping heads ran with their example at the time, and now have varying degrees of quality recordings. I recorded several artists in the seventies and eighties on reels - from Steve Goodman and Muddy Waters to Jethro Tull and John Cage - from bluegrass and folk, to blues and jazz, to rock, classical and experimental - as well as many Grateful Dead radio broadcasts and tape trades. Everything I recorded back then on Maxell 35-90 still sounds fresh and fantastic today. Money well spent at the time.

So, Wisconsindead, I hope that answers your question, at least on the analog front. I could discuss at-length about the benefits and quality of analog recording versus digital recording, but I'll pass on that for now. Suffice to say, "it's the space between the sounds and notes which make the listening experience that much richer" . . . 7 1/2 inches is so much more substance than 1 7/8 inches, and 15 and 30 inches can be immense in terms of 'collecting the information'.